I sometimes find the timeless poetry of the prophet Isaiah inspiring. That tends to be rare, for me, in the Old Testament as it can be difficult to identify with. I love today’s passage in how it speaks to his own people, offers grace to us today and points all of us to Christ. I see the words Isaiah writes here speaking of hope, and hope is a message from God which flows throughout time.
In Isaiah’s day, the Assyrians had become strong and would soon be invading from the north. Israel and Judah were divided. They had become wealthy and complacent in their obedience to the law. They had taken other gods into their homes and hearts. Israel, the northern kingdom had already been dissolved by Assyria. The king of Judah himself had committed atrocities, sins against man and God that would shock us even today and he was about to die as a result of his own politics and intrigue.
To a people threatened with death or slavery, Isaiah offers the hope of a strong nation which others look to for counsel, a secure place to live without fear of war. That hope however, can only come from lives lived in observance of the precepts handed down from Moses.
How often are we like the people of Isaiah’s day? What are our other gods? Where are we putting our time, our first fruits? Doesn’t it become so easy to avoid the word when our bellies are full? How often do we look to our own word over the word of God? Isn’t it then that life begins a downward spiral? Is it punishment from God, or is it the natural consequences of our own actions? Whether for the Israelites in slavery to the Assyrians or for us in slavery to sin, Isaiah points us both to Christ as “the instruction out of Zion” and “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”. He foresees that it is Christ, the Word, as judge and arbiter of all who gives us the hope that only exists in the Lord. It is through that word, embodied in Jesus the Christ, that we can begin to eliminate the wars we fight within… and without ourselves.
In the southern kingdom of Judah, a new and righteous king took power. He listened to Isaiah. He lived and ruled as the Lord had proscribed. He united the people and saved them from the cruel fate suffered by Israel in the north. Today we have Christ as king. His word is the word of God. His law asks us to love God and love our neighbor. In fact Jesus later says that by loving and serving one another, we are loving and serving God.
Isaiah was asking the same of his people and he was competing against false prophets who fed the people conveniently believable lies leading them to serve themselves before God. How many false prophets do we choose to listen to when we turn on our TVs and radios? Where are they leading us? Is it into union or competition with Christ?
Yesterday and today, we are called to repent, called to turn ourselves away from the things and the ways of the world. Why the need for repentance if not for one thing…? Hope. Hope of peace, of swords to plows or tanks to tractors, of violence to non-violence; hope of spears to pruning hooks, of death to life; to never know war again.
Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord our God gives us.